There are things you are told by a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or other adult when you are a kid that you simply don’t believe will ever be true. I’m sure at some point when you were young an adult told you:
“Quit wishing your life away. One day you’ll want it to slow down.”
“This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
“One day you are going to miss these long car trips riding in the backseat with your brother.”
But perhaps this time of year you heard one thing adults say that was the most unbelievable thing of all. It was so unbelievable you didn’t dare say anything when you heard it; for fear it would make you sound greedy. Something so preposterous to our little ears we simply could not imagine this to ever be true:
“Watching everyone else open presents is better than anything someone could buy me.”
As a kid I heard uncles and aunts say it, I heard my mom whisper it to my dad, I even heard my grandparents say it. How could they possibly think that giving presents to someone else was better than getting presents? It was so unbelievable.
Read – 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 and 9:6-7
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he spills a fair amount of ink talking about generosity. And he uses two different ways to say the same thing. In this first instance he tells them about the churches in Macedonia who are having a tough time.
These churches were under tremendous stress and their people were hurting financially. However, the members of these churches came together to give as much as they were able. In some cases people gave more than they could truly afford to give away.
As “The Message” translation puts it: “…pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.” They were in a bad financial situation and yet they pleaded for the opportunity to help those who were even worse off than they were.
Paul is telling the Corinthians: True giving is not based on personal condition, it is a natural outpouring of joy.
Just a few paragraphs later he says this again in a different way by telling them that gifts of obligation aren’t gifts at all: God loves a cheerful giver. True giving is not based on personal condition, it is a natural outpouring of joy.
On my desk at work sits a small glass box that was given to me at one of our wedding showers. This box is my favorite thing that we received at our wedding. It was purchased at a discount store for $14.99 plus tax.
I know where it was purchased and how much it cost because the person who gave it to us left the price tag on the box. We didn’t register at this store and the box was not something that either of us would have picked out for our home.
The box was from someone that should not have spent $14.99. Advanced in age and living on such a meager income that they could barely afford the necessities of life; this person felt compelled to buy us a wedding present.
I can picture this person calling a friend to ask for a ride to the discount store. It would have been a rare request for a trip to anywhere but a doctor or grocery store. I imagine them walking slowly up and down the aisles of the store searching for something to purchase and wondering if they should just get us a card instead and not risk not having enough money for electricity or food.
I see them carefully wrapping the box, writing us a note of congratulations on our upcoming wedding, and making sure to leave the box right were they won’t forget it on the way to our shower.
I imagine them making their way to the gift table and being so proud and full of joy to have something to place there.
God’s demonstration of joyful giving starts in Genesis when he creates man and gives him the Earth to have dominion over. He gives the Israelites protection and food. He then gives his only Son. He gives and he gives and he gives.
The Macedonians were so filled with joy and gratitude for the sacrifice on the cross that they could not be stopped from expressing their joy through giving even through some of the most trying times in their lives.
It is no wonder that we celebrate Christmas with the exchanging of gifts. How else are we supposed to express our joy at the gift we receive in Jesus. Grace, the greatest gift of all.
When I was a kid I didn’t know that a big portion of the joy I felt on Christmas morning was actually the result of the joy my parents felt as they were watching me open my gifts. When you give with a cheerful heart the joy cannot be contained. It explodes out and fills the heart of the recipient.
But this kind of joy is not temporary. Like fallout from a nuclear explosion this type of joy never fades. You can close your eyes now and still feel the joy from Christmases past, can’t you? It’s like a small glimpse of the joy that we feel this Advent season as we reflect on the gift that is Jesus.
Courtney and I have been married for 11 and a half years and we only have as handful of gifts left from our wedding in 2009: A Kitchen Aid Mixer that will probably out live both of us, a few pieces of pottery, and this small $14.99 box from a discount store.
I remember telling Courtney all about the person who gave us the box and how stunned I was that they went to all the trouble of buying anything at all when they had so little for themselves. I told her how this person had been a cheerleader of mine since I was 7 years old and prayed constantly for me as I grew up and went away to college and eventually Atlanta.
Courtney heard how this person diligently followed up with my parents and asked them how I was doing and made sure to have them tell me hello and how happy they were to hear I was doing well.
This box was more than a wedding gift, it was an expression of joy that could not be contained. And that joy radiates in my life to this very day.
Most people who come to my office don’t notice this little box, even though I keep it in a prominent place on my desk. Every once-in-awhile someone will ask me, “What’s that box on your desk? It looks empty.”
I don’t tell them the truth. I don’t think they would understand. That little $14.99 discount store box on my desk is most certainly not empty. It’s full of joy.
Sing – Joy to the World
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.